A Noble Woman


13. The Lash Of The World's Press


The Times.

'The ordinary German mind is doubtless incapable of understanding the "horror and disgust" which the military execution of Miss Cavell will arouse throughout the civilized world. We shall be surprised if within the next few days the press of all neutral lands does not re-echo these feelings with an intensity which will astonish the disciples of "Kultur." Here we have in its highest development that boasted product of the Teutonic intelligence and the Teutonic heart. The very spirit of Zabern, but of Zabern in war-time, broods over the whole brutal and stupid story. There is not in Europe, outside Germany and her Allies, a man who can read it without the deepest emotions of pity and of shame. The victim was a lady who had devoted her life to the noblest and the most womanly work woman can do. She was the head of a great nursing institute which has trained numbers of nurses for Germany as well as for Belgium. She herself nursed many wounded Germans at the beginning of the War. She has been sentenced to death by their officers, and shot by their comrades. So is it that the Germans requite the charity of strangers. She had been guilty of a military offence--the offence of harbouring her own wounded countrymen and Belgians amongst whom she had lived and worked, and of getting them across the Dutch frontier. That was enough for the uniformed pedants who tried her, and for their civilian subordinates. She was perfectly straightforward and truthful with the court. They sent her to her death upon her own admissions. They could not, even by their own harsh law, have convicted her without these admissions. Her frankness did not profit her any more than did her sex, her calling, or her services to the Kaiser's wounded troops. There was the fact: she acknowledged certain acts which could be twisted into "conveying soldiers to the enemy," and the legal penalty for this offence under the German military code is death. That was enough for her judges. They sentenced her on a Monday afternoon, and had her shot in the dark at two o'clock next morning. Napoleon ordered a similar "execution" in the ditch of Vincennes. It cost him and his Empire dear.

'There is not much more to tell. The Councillor to the American Legation was refused permission to visit the prisoner after sentence, and a like refusal was at first given to the English clergyman, Mr. Gahan. This last refusal, worthy of the Jacobins who refused a confessor to Marie Antoinette, was, however, not persisted in, and the doomed Englishwoman had the consolations of her own Church, and received the Holy Communion from Mr. Gahan's hands. He found her "admirably strong and calm." She admitted again her guilt according to German military law, but assured him that "she was happy to die for her country." Her country with one voice acknowledges the claim. She did in very truth die for England, and England will not lightly forget her death. That she had committed a technical offence is undeniable; but so did Andreas Hofer and other victims of Napoleonic tyranny whose doom patriotic Germans never cease to execrate. We do not know whether the hide-bound brutality of the military authorities or the lying trickery of the civilians is the more repulsive. Both were determined that Miss Cavell should die, and they conspired together to shoot her before an appeal could be lodged. They have killed the English nurse, as Napoleon killed the Duc D'Enghien, and by killing her they have immeasurably deepened the stain of infamy that degrades them in the eyes of the whole world. They could have done no deed better calculated to serve the British cause.'

The Morning Post.

'Often as in the course of the past fifteen months we have been astounded by the relapses into elemental barbarism which our adversaries have exhibited, perhaps there is no case that shows up so much as this the ghastly descent of the German character into primitive brutality. When it is admitted that the charge was proved true, by the accused's confessions, and that it was a charge that, according to the military code in force at Brussels, might be visited with the penalty of death, all is said that can be said for the real criminals. A proclamation of martial law usually invests the military authority with the power of inflicting the severest penalties over a wide range of offences. This does not mean that that authority is to deal in nothing but death sentences. But it is quite useless to look for any colourable pretext for German remorselessness in this matter. They were resolved from the first to commit this deed of cruelty, but they were feverishly anxious that it should be kept secret until beyond recall. From the moment that the American Legation was known to have got news of Miss Cavell's arrest and to be concerned in seeing that she was properly defended, the German local Government begins to adopt every means for throwing dust in the eyes of the United States representatives. Surely such a story has never been presented to the modern world as is here unfolded.

'All who have given attention to Napoleonic literature must have recollections of prints of the death of the Duc D'Enghien--the firing party under the glare of the torches, the prisoner standing on the brink of his newly dug grave. In Napoleon's lifetime, and for many years after, nothing hurt his personal reputation more than this summary, furtive execution in the dead of night that seemed to proclaim its own blood-guiltiness. But the great Frenchman acted in this matter with the motives and in the manner of an Eastern Sultan. He saw a man whom, rightly or wrongly, he believed to be a danger to himself; he arrested him lawlessly on foreign soil, and struck him down lawlessly. But what is there in common between such an episode and the midnight execution of a defenceless woman who never meant harm to any human being, who only came within reach of the criminal law by her superior regard for the higher precepts of mercy and compassion?

'When we think of the scene in that Brussels jail we may well wonder that at this time of day it should be possible to get men to participate in such a deed. Is it that insufficient blood has been shed during this past year that men should hunger after one harmless life? Yet we should evidently make a great mistake to treat our heroic countrywoman's end as if a mere case for compassion.

'One cannot mourn beyond a certain point for such a death. Who could have dreamed a few years ago that English womanhood would be producing such a heroine--the counterpart and realization in actual life of the Antigone whom the tragedian's inspired imagination has held up to the world's admiration for so many centuries?'

The Daily Telegraph.

'We do not know whether any comment would be adequate in a case like this, or whether, indeed, all comment is not superfluous. We have had large experience of the brutality with which the enemy conducts his warfare, and especially the inhuman recklessness with which he pursues his vengeance against the civilian population of the countries which he invades. We venture to think, however, that in the case of a nurse, a woman whose life is dedicated to the alleviation of pain, cruelty of this kind, cruelty that presses against her the very extremity of martial law, is more diabolical even than all the other counts of a growing indictment. No other nation in Europe, we believe, would have put a nurse to death in circumstances of this kind. They would have made some allowance for her woman's tender heart, even though she had been guilty of an offence, and therefore deserved some punishment. Nothing, probably, can now brand with fouler infamy the German name, stained as it is by all the damning items in its past record, from Louvain and the Lusitania down to the murder of an English nurse.'

The Standard.

'Those who sorrow for the death of a good and brave Englishwoman who died for her country as truly and nobly as any soldier in the field must most warmly acknowledge the efforts made on her behalf by the Ministers of the United States and of Spain. Everything which could be done by gentlemen of kindly spirit and resolution to save her was done. We are once more under a debt of unbounded gratitude to those neutrals who have, from the first, striven to maintain some of the mitigations of the horrors of warfare which our enemy thrusts aside with contempt. They strained their diplomatic prerogatives to the utmost in the cause of mercy, and, if all their efforts were unavailing to combat the logical savagery of the German military mind, the fault was none of theirs. We must add also that, despite the horror at the outrage which they cannot conceal, the representatives of the United States who have reported are perfectly fair to the Germans. Although their own proposals for the defence of Miss Cavell were rejected, they do not deny that her trial was, in a sense, fair, and that the issue was in accordance with the evidence and the provisions of the German military code. The correspondence of Mr. Brand Whitlock with Mr. Page, and the documents he forwards, gain the greater cogency from their frank avowal of that fact. Murder by process of law is, of course, no rare thing. Judge Jeffreys was a murderer of that kind. But it has always aroused greater anger and contempt among men of right feeling than murder of any other kind, and those, we are sure, will be the feelings aroused throughout the world by the story of the murder of this noble woman, who, if she offended against the laws of her country's foes, could have been so easily rendered harmless by means far less severe. The vengeance of the strong upon the weak is the most abhorrent spectacle in the eyes of all right-minded people which can be exhibited.

'It would be easy to pour forth vials of denunciation on the heads of the Germans for this act. But it is utterly useless to do so, and, if useless, then weak. A homely proverb says that you can expect nothing from a pig but a grunt, and we know by this time what to expect from our present enemy. Their standard of justice, of manliness, of chivalry, is altogether diverse from ours, and atrocities such as this done on Miss Cavell must simply confirm us in our determination that it is our standard and not theirs which is going to prevail in the world of the future. As one outrage follows another the conviction grows the stronger that the world on the Prussian model would be an intolerable place, and that every man who loves freedom, mercy, and justice had better die than live to see it so. The correspondence must be read in full. We shall not attempt to discuss it in detail. In due course, as we most fully believe, the blood of all those who have perished to slake the brutal German thirst for dominion will be required at the hands of the guilty. On the other hand, the name of Edith Cavell is henceforth enshrined among the patriots and martyrs who have died nobly for the honour of the Empire. May her relatives and friends find comfort in that thought!'

The Daily Mail.

'The story of Miss Cavell's arrest, trial, and martyrdom is one of those sublime tragedies which make the deepest appeal to the heart of man. The facts cover the enemy with eternal infamy. The Germans did to death a woman whose whole life had been dedicated to the service of suffering man, for a breach of a barbarous law which they themselves had imposed. All efforts to save her were in vain. The German authorities tricked and attempted to deceive the United States Minister at Brussels, who made the most persistent exertions in her behalf. They evidently hurried on the execution in order that no chance might baulk them of their prey. This is a deed which in its horror and wicked purposelessness stuns the world and cries to heaven for vengeance.

'Miss Cavell neither grieved nor faltered when she knew her fate. She was happy, she said, to die for her country; and a life which had been generously devoted to a noble work was crowned by an heroic death. It is difficult to say what inspiration a nation does not draw from such an example as hers, which lifts up even the meanest and most selfish heart to new heights of unselfish love and devotion. "To weep would do her wrong." Her life and death are beautiful as those of the saints of old, and will move mankind like immortal music or song. In the truest sense she may be said to have died happy. Her country will never forget her. Her memory will brace our troops in the hour of battle, and when the grey forms close in the North Sea it will be there. Those who die thus have won immortality.'

The Daily Chronicle.

'In a War which numbers its casualties by millions, and which has witnessed holocausts of atrocity like the sinking of the Lusitania and the sack of Louvain, the murder of a single lady may seem a small episode. But the enormity of a crime is not always measured by the number of its victims. Here was a lady of education who had devoted her life to the relief of human suffering. The head of a great nursing institute, she had helped to train hundreds of nurses, including Germans. When the War broke out she devoted her whole strength to the care of the wounded, and had lavished her personal attention on wounded German soldiers. Latterly she had assisted certain British, French, and Belgian soldiers to escape to England across the Dutch frontier. Charged with this military offence, she admitted it with complete candour; indeed, she seems to have been the principal witness against herself. One may safely affirm that, having regard to her transparently humanitarian motives and all the circumstances of the case, no Government in the world but the German would have inflicted the death penalty on such a culprit. They not merely inflicted it, but compassed its infliction with a mixture of duplicity and brutality that must make every decent human being's gorge rise. Of Miss Cavell herself no one will dispute that if any death in this War has been heroic, hers was; one cannot say less, and no one could say more. The sense of the whole civilized world can be left to judge between this helpless woman and her murderers.'

The Scotsman.

'That Miss Cavell was guilty of an offence against martial law was not denied. But it was not a crime that implied any moral delinquency or transgression of the normal rules of human conduct. On the contrary, it was prompted by the spirit of self-sacrifice and mercy that had guided her whole life, but of which not the tiniest measure was yielded to herself by the men who pursued her to the death. While it may be said that she acted imprudently, and that punishment, and even severe punishment, for her offence was to be looked for, she acted from motives and under circumstances that could only raise her in the eyes of all who are capable of appreciating generosity, courage, and kindness. No suspicion of espionage was attached to her conduct; no accusation of that nature was brought against her; and on being charged with what she had done, she made full and frank acknowledgement. This candour of confession was turned against her as one of the aggravations of her offence. It is made but too clear that the tribunal before which she was hurried thirsted for her blood and for the blood of all who were concerned in the escape of those prisoners from the tender mercies of the Brussels military authorities. Having already lain for several weeks in prison, Miss Cavell was brought before a court-martial, and after a two-days' trial was sentenced to death in the evening and led out to execution early next morning. There was a surreptitiousness as well as a vindictiveness about the whole proceedings that cannot but amaze, as well as horrify and disgust.'

The Irish Times.

'If any one in Ireland still fails to see the necessity for resisting to the utmost the extension of Prussian power in Europe, this should open his eyes. It will be equally admitted by every one but her executioners that her sex, her kindness to German wounded, and her charitable intentions in committing the undoubted offence against the law imposed upon Belgium by the conquerors should have been regarded as good reasons for treating her with leniency. All these considerations were ignored by the German authorities. Their haste to accomplish the foul deed without possibility of interference is not out of keeping with the worst that we know of savage races. In utter contrast with their proceedings, there was reported yesterday the hearing in a North of England town of an appeal by a woman charged with attempted espionage against a sentence of six months' imprisonment. The woman was of German descent; she had sought information concerning a shell factory, and she admitted that she would have passed it on to the Germans if possible. Her trial was fair and careful, and she had the fullest opportunity of securing legal advice at every stage. Her appeal was patiently heard. So it is with every case of the kind, whatever may be the nationality of the accused person. British justice has a name throughout the world. Henceforth, so will German justice, but the name will be of other significance.'

The Nursing Mirror.

'The heroic and tragic death of Miss Edith Cavell has placed the martyr's crown on the head of this most courageous and patriotic woman, and has consecrated afresh the whole of the nursing profession for her sake in the eyes of the world. Never has the heart of the nation been more deeply stirred than by this crowning deed of infamy; never have the vials of its righteous indignation been poured forth in such a torrent of just anger. The whole of the civilized world has risen as one man to protest against this violation of all the laws of mercy and of judgement against this act by which Germany stands forth for all time alone, apart, leprous and unclean, among the people of the earth. Her words to the chaplain on the evening before her execution were those of quiet courage and resignation. Spoken in the stern solemnity of that prison cell, with the sincerity that comes from the nearness of the eternal dawn, these words carry a force and conviction they might otherwise lack to every one of her fellow workers round the world, and are driven home to each heart like a nail fastened in a sure place.... This day of national adversity is our day of opportunity. In it may we be all "brave in peril, constant in tribulation, and in all changes of fortune, and down to the gates of death, loyal and loving one to another."'

The Lady's Pictorial.

'It is difficult to speak of the crime which has blotted the already foul page of Germany's infamy in constrained language. The whole civilized world stands aghast at the callous brutality and deceit of the German officials in Brussels who have done to death a noble Englishwoman; and words are impotent things in which to express the horror, the disgust, the fury, that this brave woman's murder has excited. Nor is it possible to deal in other than conventional phrases with her splendid self-sacrifice. She has died for her country, but she has also won the martyr's crown. Her love for her country was boundless. To serve it she ran a risk the gravity of which she fully recognized, and she freely admitted that in so doing she had offended against military laws. We all know--it is written for all time on the pages of history--how she paid the penalty. There is no need to retell the shameful story, to extol further her splendid heroism, to waste breath in execrating the savages whose name is now besmirched beyond all cleansing; whose blood-thirst has been slaked at the heart of a helpless woman. But it is worth while--it cannot be too often repeated--to cry aloud that Edith Cavell died that her countrywomen may live. Who dared to ask what is one woman among the tens of thousands of men who have perished for their country in view of all that this heroic nurse's slaughter means to England? Dying in her country's service, sacrificed to the savagery of the most treacherous, bestial, merciless enemy against which civilized peoples have ever had to fight, a victim to their lust of hate, she has left to Englishwomen an example and a message which must surely stir them to follow her, if need be, to death.'

The British Weekly.

'The Saxon name Edith, which is linked with the most ancient glories of English history, has acquired a new lustre through the sufferings of Edith Cavell. In every church on Sunday preachers sounded the praise of the loving, gentle woman who was shot by the Germans in Brussels in the dark of a mid-October night a few hours before the fleet of Zeppelins started on their flight towards London. Her only crime was that she furthered the escape from Belgium of her countrymen and their Allies. The shield clasped for their sake in her delicate hand was like the buckler of Arthur in Spenser's poem, "All of diamond perfect pure and cleene," and coming ages will see that it was hewn out of the adamant rock. Amid the panoply of the martyrs her diamond shield will burn.'

The Catholic Times.

'Baron von Bissing, the German Governor-General of Belgium, recently addressing a meeting of German women in Brussels, said, "We must do our best to carry on here in Belgium a real German 'Kultur' work." He has just given the world a proof of what the Germans can do for the promotion of "Kultur" in Belgium. It is a proof which has brought home fully to civilized people the truth that when the Germans are called barbarians there is no exaggeration in the charge. The shooting of women is a relic of barbarism abhorrent to the general feeling of the present day. The execution of Miss Cavell brings into relief once more the main characteristic of German warfare. Laws, civilized customs, honourable traditions, must give way if they obstruct German domination. A multitude of Belgians, male and female, have been put to death with as much cruelty as was displayed towards Miss Cavell. It is needless to say that by revealing their true character during the War the Germans have been fighting most effectively against their own cause. The horror excited by their infamies is worth whole regiments of recruiting-sergeants. Not only in the countries at war with Germany, but amongst the populations of the neutral nations, it produces the firm belief that there could be no greater enemy of popular rights than Germany, and that the success of German "Kultur" work would blast civilization like a deadly blight.'


The French Senate 'bowed with respect and profound emotion before the memory of this heroic martyr to duty, who sacrificed her life in the cause of patriotism and of eternal right'; and the French press glowed with magnificent tributes to the memory of the brave Englishwoman. One of the most striking articles was that communicated to L'Homme Enchaîné by M. Clemenceau:

'It was necessary that Miss Cavell, symbolizing in her heroic death and her simplicity an incalculable mass of awful butchery, should rise from her tomb to show the Germans that every soul of living humanity revolts with disgust against a cause which can only defend itself by a most cowardly assassination.

'The profound truth is that she honoured her country in dying for that which is the finest in the human soul--the conscience of a grandeur of which the greater part of us dreams, and which only a few of the elect have a chance of realizing. This was the lot of Miss Cavell; driven to a wall by a detachment of riflemen, she was walking without a complaint, without a regret, being already no longer of this earth, when a physical faintness made her falter. To me it only makes her appear greater, since, combination of strength and weakness, she thus showed herself woman, purely woman, to the end. "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"--"My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"--said Another on His cross, in a moment of weakness and distress by which the splendour of His sacrifice was increased.

'Edith Cavell did not speak a word; she fell. Thereupon an officer, a representative gentleman of "Germany above everything," a delegate of the Emperor, and, through the Emperor, of "the old German God," carrying out his despicable task of butcher, calmly drew near, placed his revolver at the temple of his victim, pressed the trigger, and then, with his hand red with blood, signed to his "men," if such I may call them, that the work of Germania was done. We shall not forget the name of Miss Cavell, but we do not know, we never shall know, the name of the other. He calls himself a German--that is enough. Every other German would have claimed the honour of carrying out the same task. Since the day of Joan of Arc, to whose memory I know that the British will one day wish to erect a statue, Great Britain has owed us this return. She has given it nobly.

'Now the Eumenides are let loose--Miss Edith Cavell, murdered by a coward, will live among the men of all ages and of all countries with a life which, for a time of which one cannot foresee the end, will bring shame and torment on the people on whom her blood lies; and that the lesson may be lasting, I should like to see in Rome, Brussels, Nish, Paris, London, and Petrograd, as an indestructible memorial of a community of sentiment, a statue of this noble woman and of the German officer. It would be sufficient to take as a model the excellent drawing published by Abel Faivre in the Echo de Paris, in which that fine artist has indicated in a few strokes of sublime grandeur the nobility of the blessed victim, and, without forcing anything, the features of the assassin.

'Those who come after us, and whose knowledge of the terrible realities of these days will only be derived from cold, dispassionate words, must have before their eyes an image recalling the living facts: Edith Cavell and a Boche without name, representative of a people which, feeling the weight of universal opprobrium, has not found one spark of conscience from which to utter one word of protest.'

The Journal des Débats.

'Miss Cavell died like a heroine, like a true worthy daughter of England, the victim of those who would like to have killed her country, and who revenged themselves on a woman. The murder of Miss Cavell deserves to be avenged, and it will be, and in a manner more terrible than the Germans dream of. The soul of England and the soul of France are to-day united over the body of poor but glorious Miss Cavell in a most sacred oath.'


'The German who cold-bloodedly, without even the excuse of the passion of battle, judged, condemned, and executed Miss Cavell is a monster, a being who has placed himself voluntarily beyond the pale of human law. England, who has furnished us with so many causes for gratitude since the beginning of the War, now offers for our admiration a loyal, strong, and simple heroine. This winter at the feast of Joan of Arc English officers brought flowers to her statue. The French will not forget the great example of Edith Cavell. She has entered the eternal light which shines on the foreheads of heroines and martyrs. For centuries to come little children will spell her name, and learn in the story of her life lessons of courage.'


The German reign of terror just over their own borders the Dutch may accept as a menace and a warning to themselves; but the assassination of Nurse Cavell aroused the most emphatic denunciations of the crime.

The Amsterdam Telegraaf.

'Under the fatherly government of Bissing, the Belgians at present have cause to envy the Parisians of 1793 in the Reign of Terror. Not a person is sure of his life, and certainly not an honest and brave person, for the German reign of terror seeks by frightful examples to make the whole of Belgium a nation of traitors and cowards. Love of country, which the Germans themselves claim to honour as the highest virtue, they punish in the enemy as the most frightful crime.

'In the last fortnight were pronounced ten sentences of death and thirty-two of penal servitude for from ten to fifteen years. Among these death sentences were four women. We wrote once in this journal, "Holland is incapable of shuddering any more." We were wrong. The death penalty on a brave woman has caused the whole of this country to freeze with horror. Openly and unashamed Germany makes herself a nation of outlaws against whom in the future every possible measure of reprisal must be counted as warranted.'

Nieuws Van Den Dag.

'What poor psychologists German officials and officers seem to be! They started with the request to the Belgian Government for free passage; they then overwhelmed the neutral press with one-sided reports regarding the Lusitania case and the visits of Zeppelins to undefended towns; finally, incidents of this sort! Everywhere they betray a lack of the most elementary conception of psychology.'